Parables: Truth Hidden in the Open

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Luke 8.8).

Who has ears? Most people, right? Of course, there are anomalies, but the general makeup of the human being is two ears, two eyes, one mouth, two hands, five fingers, etc., etc. So, based off the above statement by Jesus it would appear at first glance that He means “you all within the range of my voice ought to hear what I am saying, for you all have ears.” This then, if true, means what? That those who heard the message of Jesus bore the responsibility of responding to it. (Bear in mind that “hear” in this context conveys the idea of listening/obeying).

In Parables…

One of the ways that Jesus taught was in parables. This closing comment by the Lord quoted at the top (Luke 8.8) is attached at the end of one such teaching. A parable is a type of communication that contains elements of both “realism and symbolism.”[1] The term essentially means to “come alongside” in a comparison-type teaching. The realistic side deals with things that have concrete value in life (such as sowing seed, attending weddings, etc.), but within this realism is a symbolism that takes a deeper or secondary meaning of those real-life circumstances.

What is often said—in fact this was something that I was taught very early on in my academic training—is that Jesus taught in parables so that people might understand them. He would take real life scenarios that people could relate to in their everyday life and apply them to spiritual truths. The idea that Jesus taught in parables to veil the truth from certain individuals was adamantly denied as seen in the following citation:

  • “…Jesus seems to say that He uses parables to conceal the truth from the people…However, to believe that Jesus deliberately withheld saving truth from people is to attribute malice to Him, and this is not compatible with His character as it is portrayed consistently in the New Testament.”[2]

Certainly, the underlying assumption by these writers and those who share their sentiment is found in their presupposition regarding man’s ability. Often the argument is presented that if Jesus (God in the Flesh) gives a command (e.g., you need to do this), then people that are hearing His message must be able to (i.e., have the capability of) responding obediently. To say that Jesus spoke a parable as a method of hiding the truth from some is preposterous. Or, so it is argued.

How do we solve the apparent dilemma?  What would be the wise first step? I mean, in order to answer the question with wisdom and knowledge what is the first thing we ought to do? Our immediate response should be to go to the Word of God.


First, we need to see what reason Jesus gave for speaking in parables. (Two reasons will be given in this post). Then as a secondary consideration we should look into what the rest of God’s Word saying about those “who have ears to hear.” That is to say, “Does the Lord’s declared purpose comport with the rest of biblical revelation?” (This will be covered in a future post).

1st—Jesus’ Reason for Speaking in Parables

The parable of the Sower is perhaps one of the Lord’s most well-known parables. Parables appear to be a favorite teaching method of Jesus, but afterwards the disciples inquired of Him: “Why do you speak to them [the crowds] in parables?” (Matt 13.10; also Mark 4.10; Luke 8.9). This is an important question. If anyone knew the reason why Jesus taught in parables, you’d think it’d be Him.

So…what does He say is His reason? What answer does the Lord give? He tells his disciples,

“To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given” (Matt 13.11)

“To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything in parables” (Mark 4.11)

“To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand’” (Luke 8.10).

These three verses provide the reason Jesus has given for speaking in parables to the crowds. They also show why He took the time to explain their meaning to his disciples (i.e., those who professed belief and followed Him). If you know how to read, then the meaning is clear. Jesus does not intend to give the “secrets of the kingdom of God”[3] to everyone. The information is being purposely withheld.   

“But…hold on…let’s not get to hasty here,” it is argued. “This must be a special circumstance, not the general role,” it is reasoned. “For to keep or withhold vital information, especially information pertaining to salvation, is so out of character for Jesus,” it is believed.

However, this is not the only time we have Jesus saying something to this effect. That some information is given to those whom He chose, but held from others He did not. Just a couple chapters later (Luke 10) we find the same sort of statement being made by the Lord; hidden from some, but revealed to others.

Luke 10…

In Luke 10, Jesus appointed 70 of his disciples to preach the gospel of the kingdom to the surrounding towns. He sent them out in pairs of two. They were given simple instructions. Proclaim the message I’ve given you. If they come to a house that embraces the message, peace is to be declared to this home. The same could be said of the town that welcomes them. A ministry of healing was given as a sign that “the kingdom of God has come near to you” (Luke 10.9). However, if the home and/or the town rejects them, then they are to keep the peace given to them and present those unbelievers with another sign:

“When you enter any town, and they don’t welcome you, go out into the streets and say, ‘We are wiping off as a witness against you even the dust of your town that clings to our feet. Know this for certain: The kingdom of God has come near’” (Luke 10.11-12).

This sign was a sign of judgment (cf. Luke 10.12-16).

Now, eventually the 70 return to the Lord. And boy, were they happy! Overwhelmed with joy over what they were able to accomplish in Jesus’ name, they said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in Your name” (Luke 10.17). But Jesus curbs their enthusiasm. He tells them that though He has granted them with authority to knock Satan off his high horse, what they should truly be rejoicing over is this: “that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10.20).

Keeping the context of Luke 10 in mind helps us see what I was arguing earlier about the parables. Jesus said He spoke in parables to keep from those who were not His, the truth that under-laid them. Only those whom He chose to reveal the truth would have access to understanding the spiritual meaning necessary for salvation. To His own the secrets of the gospel of the kingdom were given.

Now, we find He has sent out 70 in pairs of two to the surrounding towns with the gospel. Some believed and some rejected the message. The 70 were rejoicing about the authority that they had been granted over the devil, but Jesus turns them to the fact that their names were written down in heaven as to what should be their true source of joy. He then,

“In that same hour…rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, ‘I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and the learned and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, because this was Your good pleasure. All things have been entrusted to Me by My Father. No one know who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son desires to reveal to Him” (Luke 10.21-22; Emphasis added).

The clearness of these statements by the Lord (now in Luke 10 and earlier in Luke 8.10) ought to settle the matter. Jesus did not reveal the truth to all. To some He kept such things secret. He determined who would be the recipients and who would not. He praised the Father for keeping these things “hidden” from those who professed themselves wise; instead, giving to those who did not know their right hand from their left (i.e., infants) the truth. Just as the Father hide the truth, so too did the Son. Just as the Father revealed the truth “according to His good pleasure,” so too did the Son.

2nd—Reason Jesus spoke in Parables

No need in drawing this out. John the Baptist said during his ministry that the “winnowing fork” (Matt 3.12; Luke 3.17) was in the hand of the Messiah, who he also revealed as the Lamb of God (John 1.36). Meaning that judgment was Jesus’ (cf. John 5.22, 27, 30). The judgment was carried out in who received and who did not receive the Word of God, spoken by the prophet Jesus.

All four of the gospel writers point specifically to Isaiah’s prophecy as the reason why some were given the truth of God, and from others it was withheld. The only difference is found in application. Matthew, Mark, and Luke applied it to the parable of the “sower” (see Matt 13.13-14; Mark 4.12; Luke 8.10). Whereas, John used it in a different context to point to the unbelief prevalent throughout Israel at the time of the Lord’s crucifixion (see John 12.39-40).

Isaiah 6…

Like Jesus, Isaiah was sent to a people that were facing the judgment of God for their idolatry. After purifying the mouth of Isaiah to speak on His behalf, the Lord God gave him this charge:

“God, and say to this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed” (Isa 6.9-10).

Now, Isaiah after hearing this decree from the Lord inquires “Until when, Lord?” (Isa 6.11). Here is the answer the prophet received:

“Until cities lie in ruins without inhabitants, houses without people, the land is ruined and desolate, and the Lord drives the people far away, leaving great emptiness in the land.” (Isa 6.11b-12).

According to God’s own testimony the only ones that will be saved are the ones that He has decided to save. These are the remnant. These are the recipients of His Grace. The benefactors of His mercy. These are the ones identified as the “holy seed,” the “stump” God has left after pouring out judgment.

As Jesus testified,

“The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to those outside, everything comes in parables” (Mark 4.11). 

Jesus divides with the sword of His Word (Matt 10.34; Luke 12.51) between those who are the wheat of His field, the Holy “seed” the “stump” left after He has swung His axe, and those who are tares and dead trees (Matt 3.10, 12; Luke 3.9, 17). The parables were given to divide between two types of people, those He came to save and those He came to condemn, according to Christ’s own testimony.

When next we meet, we shall see if such a teaching actually comports with the rest of Scripture.


[1] Ryken, Leland, James C. Wilhoit, Tremper Longman III, eds., Dictionary of Biblical Imagery: An Encyclopedic exploration of the Images, Symbols, Motifs, Metaphors, Figures of Speech and Literary Patterns of the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 623.

[2] Blaney, Harvey J. S. and Carl Hanson, Exploring the New Testament, Ralph Earle, ed. (Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press, [1955], 1961), 101.

[3] For the interested reader, the two phrases “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven” are synonymous with one another. Matthew used the phrase with “heaven” due to the sensitives the Jews had in not using God’s name in order to avoid blasphemy. But a careful comparison of how he uses the phrase in light of how the other gospel writers use it (due to their Gentile audience) reveals they mean the same thing. Here is an example text that validates that conclusion: “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Matt 19.23-24; italics added).